Today is St Oran’s day. He’s my favourite saint. (Along with Lucy: legend says that a nobleman offered to marry Saint Lucy for the beauty of her eyes, so she tore them out and gave them to him, saying “Now let me live for God!” Amazing.)
I’m not a Catholic, but I like Oran. Arundhati Roy said “There’s no such thing as the voiceless. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” I believe he should be their patron saint.
Oran was a Christian missionary in Iona, (pictured in the large cover image) in the 6th century AD. There are several versions of his tale. One version says he was the son of Saint Columba.
In this version of the legend, Saint Columba was building the chapel of Saint Oran, named after his own son. But the building was not going well: no matter how well the work was done, every morning all that had been built the previous day was discovered in ruins.
At last Saint Columba heard a voice, which told him the only way to finish the chapel was to bury a man alive under its foundations. Without this, the chapel could never be finished.
Columba decided that his own son was the only one who could be put under the chapel, so he buried him at once and the building work went on with no problems.
One day, however, according to Nihil Obstat, “Oran raised his head, and pushing it through the wall, said, ‘There is no Hell as you suppose, nor Heaven that people talk about.’
“This alarmed St. Columba, and in case Oran should communicate more secrets of the other world, he had the body removed at once and buried in consecrated ground, and St. Oran never again troubled any one.”
Other versions say that Oran was dug up again after three days on Saint Columba’s orders. As soon as he had been taken back up, he declared that there was no God, no judgement and no afterlife. He whispered to Columba, “The way you think it is may not be the way it is at all.” And Columba, fearing more dramatic and inconvenient revelations, ordered his men to bury Oran again.
In Ireland and the Hebrides there is still a popular saying, brought out when someone raises an unpopular topic: “Throw mud in the mouth of St Oran”.
The patron saint of the silenced!
A recent essay by Rebecca Solnit in Harper’s opened with: “The story of Cassandra, the woman who told the truth but was not believed, is not nearly as embedded in our culture as that of the Boy Who Cried Wolf — that is, the boy who was believed the first few times he told the same lie. Perhaps it should be.”
And someday I would very much like to write a story about a female Oran.